Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Developing a “Master Farmer”

Peace Corps/Senegal received a large food security grant from USAID in October 2009. Part of this grant involves developing “Master Farmers” throughout Senegal. What, you may be wondering, is a “Master Farmer”? That is an excellent question. Perhaps it would be better if I took a step back and described the characteristics we were instructed to look for when searching for a person who we could recruit for the program and develop into a “Master Farmer.” The master farmer is, ideally, many things: communicative, well-respected, innovative/experimental, successful, tenured, able-bodied, mobile (i.e., able to attend trainings, etc.), experienced, and the owner of a 1-hectare, relatively empty field that is accessible to PCVs and community members. As you can imagine, finding such a person is relatively difficult, so certain characteristics were de-emphasized as needed (or abandoned altogether) in order to find people we could recruit for the program. The goal of the program is for Peace Corps Volunteers and staff to work closely with the master farmers, training them in improved agricultural technologies (for field crops, gardening, and agroforestry) and helping them develop a 1-hectare field such that it demonstrates these improved technologies for other farmers to see. The master farmer is supposed to be a teacher, telling others about the technologies, and the field is supposed to be the school, showing the community how to implement the technologies as well as showing the effectiveness of the technologies.

There are currently 13 Master Farmers throughout Senegal; each one works with 1-3 PCVs. Kaymor has one: Gorgui Aliou Mbodj, aka Nguñ. I am the main PCV who works with him, but Arianna (an agfo PCV who lives about 25 km from me) also helps, especially with agfo stuff. We were in the second group of Master Farmers to be trained, so we got a little bit of a late start in planting field crops and didn’t have time to start a tree nursery. However, we were still able to have a very successful field with 21 different field crop demonstrations for technologies related to soil amendments (ex., nothing vs. manure vs. chemical fertilizer), intercropping (corn and beans), timely weeding (vs. late weeding or no weeding), thinning (to 1, 3, or 5 stalks per plant), integrated pest management (ex., chemical pesticide vs. organic pesticide), and zai holes (vs. conventional tillage). We also got trees from the government tree agency and started a live fence. The field was so successful, in terms of demonstrating these different technologies, that we were one of three Master Farmer fields to be chosen to host a Field Day. This event involved inviting around 80 farmers in the community to the field to show off the different demonstrations and for Nguñ to explain the Master Farmer program and the demonstrations. (Several PCVs also came to help out with logistics and to film/take pictures to document it all, as well as several PC staff involved in ag/agfo stuff.) It was a great day, complete with breakfast and lunch for everyone, and culminating in a short ceremony to present Nguñ with a certificate. (See photos below)

Before the Field Day, though, we worked hard start and maintain a good demonstration site…as you can see from these pictures…

Digging zai holes:


Applying the fertilizer (this is urea, but we applied NPK, too):

Unloading the tree sacks and then transplanting the trees to start a live fence:

Weeding, watching, and waiting:

A couple demos over time.

Corn and cowpea intercropping:

Zai holes:

Pest management with yellow sticky traps (to catch and kill thrips and other bugs that attack cowpeas - we didn't have any bugs attack the cowpeas, though, so we don't know how effective they would have been...):

Soil amendment demo plots – starting with no amendments, then manure only, then half the recommended amount of NPK and urea, then both manure and half NPK/urea, then full NPK/urea, and finally manure and full NPK/urea.

To get the Field Day started, my host dad introduced my boss, Massaly, and the star of the day: Nguñ.

Once the basics were covered at our central meeting place in Kaymor, we moved out to the field to get a closer look at the demonstrations.

Another PCV, Ian, recorded everything that was being said out in the field on our region’s digital audio recorder, which I later edited and turned into a radio show to be played on the local Kaolack radio station. (I do an hour-long, ag-related radio show the first Monday of every month; on the other Mondays, other PCVs do shows about health, business, and American culture.)

It was hot and she was tired; no more explanation required. :)

Even Barack Obama made an appearance!!!

My friend Ari took most of these pictures (since I was busy helping Nguñ explain the different demo plots) – here she is with her host dad wearing the bag her host grandma made for her as a hat (did I mention it was hot?):

Once we ate lunch (which was delicious by the way – my host mom sure knows how to make a fantastic lunch, with the help of my aunts and several other women of course), there was more talking…Meetings like this can become all about politics, which is important to an extent, but we PCVs sure tired of it quickly (especially those that know a different local language than Wolof).

Finally Massaly was able to pull things together and present Nguñ with his certificate. He was so proud!!

Now that the cool season has finally set in, Nguñ and I are working on garden demonstrations. It’s a lot of work, but Nguñ is up for it. Not only is he motivated by the desire to have a great field to show off to other villagers and to be able to sell the vegetables for money, but he talks all the time about wanting to really impress Massaly when he comes down to visit so that he can have another Field Day. :)

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